rock of ages, cleft for me

We sang this hymn a few weeks ago at church, and I’ve sung it many times before. This time, though, the word “cleft” really stood out to me. First off, it seems like a pretty old-school word that nobody in 2011 uses in their natural vocabulary. I mean, there are lots of old “hymnal-ish” words I sing at church and don’t usually take time to consider what I am meaning by singing them. Like the line in “Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing” that says “Here, I raise my Ebenezer.” I mean, probably 90% of the church thinks of A Christmas Carol and Scrooge when they sing that line.

So I was thinking of what that phrase “cleft for me” means, and I wrote it down so I would look it up later. And I did. And I found it helpful, so I thought I’d share. :)

The line is: “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in thee.” So figuratively, Christ is a solid, immovable, steady, unchanging rock, and has something to do with being “cleft” or “cleaved” on for me – so there’s a split in the rock that I can hide in. OK. Still lost on “cleft” a little.

cleft: noun [kleft] definition: 1. a space or opening made by or as if by splitting, 2. split or sever (something), esp. along a natural line or grain, 3. make a way through (something) forcefully, as if by splitting it apart

That last definition was what I was looking for. The significance of the gospel in the hymn Rock of Ages. Christ was “cleft” – split apart, apart from the Father, in order to make a way, forcefully!, through sin. He made a hiding place for me, a way, for me to be found in Christ, and with the Father.

Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee;
let the water and the blood,
from thy wounded side which flowed,
be of sin the double cure;
save from wrath and make me pure.

Not the labors of my hands
can fulfill thy law’s commands;
could my zeal no respite know,
could my tears forever flow,
all for sin could not atone;
thou must save, and thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
simply to the cross I cling;
naked, come to thee for dress;
helpless, look to thee for grace;
foul, I to the fountain fly;
wash me, Savior, or I die.

While I draw this fleeting breath,
when mine eyes shall close in death,
when I soar to worlds unknown,
see thee on thy judgment throne,
Rock of Ages, cleft for me,
let me hide myself in thee.

30 thoughts on “rock of ages, cleft for me

  1. Greetings from Wordwise Hymns. Your comments caught my eye because I posted an article on “Rock of Ages” myself this morning. Great hymn. And I appreciate your determination to check out the meaning of the word “cleft.” I know that some churches are turning away from the hymn book because of some “old-fashioned” words. But I think there’s a better approach: To explain words that may be a bit unusual. This can be done briefly, by the one leading the service. Then all can sing with greater understanding. God bless.

  2. Hi Jenny…
    You might consider the analogy for the cleft rock from Exodus 33:22 as God hid Moses in the Cleft of the Rock while He caused His glory to pass by.

    It is akin to us being IN Christ so that we can stand in the presence of God. A beautiful thought.

    If any man is IN CHRIST he is a new creation, as Paul said.

    I just stumbled on your blog as I was looking for some meaning in a different verse of that song and thought I would share.

    1. Perhaps a substitution of the word find for hide would bring
      a more meaningful approach to our “ideal” relationship with The Trinity.
      To hide implies concealing rather than revealing ourselves as we are called
      to spread The Gospel. Let me “find” myself in THEE !!!

  3. Hi. Thanks, Steve. I was just reading Exodus 32 and was trying understand the phrase. So googled the phrase and I too stumbled on this blog. Would love to hear more if you can share. I thought of the covenant concept as well, namely, how god cuts or splits to establish the covenant relationship.

  4. As man cannot see God and live I think God gave Moses a picture of who he really is in chapter 34 verse six the Lord passed before him and proclaimed the Lord the Lord God merciful and gracious long-suffering and abounding in goodness and truth keeping mercy for thousands forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin………….

    In a way I don’t need right now to see God because I see what the Lord Jesus Christ did for me and everything above is a picture of Jesus Christ.

    Do you think that’s what Moses saw when he was in the cleft of the rock?

  5. I know this is 3 years old but I’m just now seeing this. The word “cleft” is hugely significant for me in multiple ways. My son was born with a cleft lip and palate and I never examined this song until I knew I was carrying him. After crying a lot, I see hidden meaning. I wasn’t sure I was able to handle something like this as a mom, but God equipped me. Through this cleft journey, I have been able to cleave to God for guidance and wisdom…or “hide myself in thee” as the song states. Thanks for writing this.

    1. A child’s cleft palate is good example of something or someone being separated into two parts and whereas the sum total of those two parts are equal to to the whole part.. as is God himself and Jesus Christ although separate are the same.. and then further, you would say the same for the trinity, which of course includes our Holy Father.

    2. Amazing song.
      This morning, I was in the spirit and I heard “Rock of ages, then I saw a man born with a sealed lip/cleft ,and an arm with out a hand /phalanges .
      This was after I prayerfully considered psalm30.

  6. Appreciate all the different thoughts. To continue the analogy, consider the rock that Moses struck the first time. That rock represented Christ being pierced by the spear on the cross after he became sin for us. When Moses struck the Nile. Blood flowed. When he struck the rock out flowed water. When Jesus was pierced out flowed blood and water. The church was born out of the side of Christ. Moses on the Mount and Elijah on the Mount were both hidden in the cleft, a picture of the later image of believers and the Church in Christ. When Moses later struck the rock a second time in disobedience, he was picturing the self-effort that Paul argued against in Galatians. The second hit was akin to crucifying Christ again, saying his first Crucifixion wasn’t sufficient.

  7. Christ was “split” from His “godliness” during His time on earth. He
    sacrificed being in the presence of His father for us. A
    God/human sacrifice of love. He provided for us a way for God to look at us through his “cleft”; without sin. I know that Christ split himself so as to provide for me and for all of us the saving grace of salvation.

  8. My husband has asked me several times what cleft meant in the song. So now I thank you all for the explanation and further thoughts. Very enlightening.

  9. wow! First the piano teacher gets my son the wrong music. Rock of Ages instead of The Old Rugged Cross. Then in the book I was compelled to read, George Muller of Bristol, I read “his feet were on the Rock of Ages that no earthquake shock can move from it’s eternal foundations.” So I thought maybe I should get my old hymnal out and really look at the words. Cleft….. I too wondered whatis this really saying. Found this site! Thank you Jenny and everyone else who commented!

  10. Thank you all for the comments. I was just reading a Spurgeon quote:
    “I have learned to kiss the wave that throws me against the Rock of Ages.” Which led me to thinking about the hymn, Rock of Ages, which led me to wanting to know the definition of cleft, which led me here!!!!!! I am blessed!

  11. I only THOUGHT I knew what that line meant–I appreciate the post and further comments. Wow, such a deep meaning, I love the significance.

  12. Thanks for the explanation – really appreciated. Was listening to music this evening and just had to check the meaning out. Thanks.

  13. cleft: noun [kleft] definition: 1. a space or opening made by or as if by splitting, 2. split or sever (something), esp. along a natural line or grain, 3. make a way through (something) forcefully, as if by splitting it apart

    Rock of Ages, cleft for me,

    As I read this I think of 2 possibilities.
    1. Jesus was cleft (inflected, smitten) for me. A way was made thru him.
    2. Or the second phrase is indicating the Rock of Age IS a cleft for me.

    Both are true. Our heart’s cry should be to be hidden in Christ, and by His stripes I am healed. He was afflicted that I would live. I am to abide in him, cling to him for my every need.

    What a beautiful thing.

  14. Jenny Rawson, it’s amazing that you could share something so personal and 5 years later still be getting comments on this blog post. I Googled “rock of ages cleft for me meaning” and found your blog post! I was humming that song the other day and the only phrase I knew from the song was “cleft for me.” I had to look it up just to find out what song I was singing! Then I was able to pull out my hymn book and study it a bit more. I stumbled on other hymns that also had meaning for me that I needed at the time.

    So, today, when I found myself humming “Rock of Ages” again, I asked myself, “What does that even mean?” I love the analogies between Moses striking the rock and how it was a “type” of things to come. I love how there are two meanings: Jesus cleft, or separated from, the Father. And Jesus’ spear wound and nail wounds.

    I love what Steven said, repeating Paul, “If any man is IN CHRIST he is a new creation” and how it is akin to us being IN Christ so that we can stand in the presence of God. And I love how we can “hide” ourselves in Christ through repentance so that we can return to the Father.

    Have a beautiful day! Thanks again for sharing and starting this discussion!

  15. there is a song sang in my vernacular in Kenya and it’s all about “Christ as my Rock” and I was requested by a colleague to translate or rather to tell the meaning and that’s how I got into this

    and am so happy to have learned more about the meaning of the ‘cleft in the Rock’

    thank you all for the enlightening comments

  16. Thank you I was reading exodus33:22 and the word cleft stood out. So I Google it and came across your song rock of ages I am truly blessed by this song because it sounds like me.

  17. When you get a Word in Pray it sends your mind searching to know exactly what is being minister to you.So thank you for some help.

  18. Wow! 5 & 1/2 years after this was posted, it is still bringing light to gospel truth in the lyrics of a beautiful hymn. I’m thankful that God’s word is living and active, and that this blog post pops up when you search Google for “cleft for me” – and I love how the Holy Spirit has revealed truth in so many layers to so many people over the years. This is rad. God bless!!

  19. While reading for a class in deliverance the author wrote “we feel as if a great chasm separates our personal reality from the claims of God’s Word.” As I often do I looked up the word chasm which listed cleft as a synonym. I immediately started singing Rock of Ages and looked up cleft. Found this article. Read it and the comments and was blessed to have followed this trail!

  20. Thank you for your post Jenny and all the other comments too! Very beautiful and sorrowful at the same time… a new sadness filled with Joy.. Christ Jesus, the Door, the junction between all that is finite and all that is infinite. Dying while in space/time – people have sacrificed themselves for others – but to Willfully and Freely select to never be fully inside Almighty Father again – half at the Right Hand of the Father, and the other half never fully inside our finite realm, and to choose to stay there as the Door, so others can enter in, and be One in the Father; so we can have fully and freely what the Messiah/Christ/the WORD of GOD has chosen to surrender for us…now that is Love…Agape Love for us, His Creation..the Ultimate Sacrifice… Who would surrender their conscious Eternity to never be 100% inside Almighty Father again, like all us liars, thieves, adulterers,and murderers can now have, when we Walk through the Door that is Christ Jesus, our LORD and Savior… “Rock of Ages, cleft for me, let me hide myself in Thee…”

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